Hearings and Business Meetings

10:00 AM

Ms. Mindy Wilkinson

Invasive Species Coordinator, Division of Forestry and Wildlife

Testimony of Dr. Mindy Wilkinson, Invasive Species Coordinator

Hawai’i Department of Land and Natural Resources

Division of Forestry and Wildlife

 

Field Hearing on Invasive Species

Subcommittee on National Parks

U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources

August 9, 2005, Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park

 

Introduction

 

Aloha Senator Akaka. Thank you for traveling here to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park to experience our unique and diverse Hawaiian ecosystems. My name is Mindy Wilkinson and I am the Invasive Species Coordinator for the Hawai’i Department of Land and Natural Resources. Finding solutions to the impacts caused by invasive species is one of the key priorities of our Department.

 

While I’ve been asked to discuss legislation and legislative solutions with you today I will only be able to do this by describing the partnerships, collaborations and lifetimes of hard work that have gone into preserving what you see around you. The partnerships and innovations in management developed in Hawai’i serve as models for developing better legislative solutions to the problems caused by invasive species.

 

Cooperating to control invasive species across landscapes has improved management of native ecosystems by including entire watersheds and allowing ecosystems to function instead of relying on constant mitigative measures to make up for the loss of key pieces of habitat. For many invasive species concerns, waiting to initiate management until they are on your property or have crossed a regional boundary is not sufficient. The most effective option for avoiding degradation of ecosystems by invasive species is prevention followed by early detection and rapid response to these species, no matter who’s land the species is found on. It is important to not risk loosing another acre, another host plant or native bird to Brown Treesnakes, Red Imported Fire Ants or the next threat around the corner. Protecting Hawai’i from invasive species by working together to improve our prevention and quarantine network and preventing the establishment of invasive species and eradicate incipient populations of invasive species is key to preserving our ecosystems.

 

The State of Hawai’i is committed to invasive species management through the stewardship of our own lands which includes the 102 year old forest reserve system and through partnerships including the Invasive Species Committees that manage newly established invasive species and Watershed Partnerships that allow neighboring landowners to collaborate to manage landscapes. In 2003 the Hawai’i State Legislature created the Hawai’i Invasive Species Council to provide Cabinet level leadership and the Governor subsequently asked key Cabinet members to participate as well as committing $4,000,000 in new state funding to improve programs devoted to invasive species prevention, early detection and rapid response, research and the application of new technology and public outreach.

 

With the cooperation of the Counties, Federal partners and private groups we have:

-                           carried out research at our ports to identify the goods and vessels that pose the greatest risk of introducing invasive species,

-                           expanded our operations to control invasive species that threaten the environment and economy as well as creating an innovative aquatic species response team that will help protect our vital reefs,

-                           provided 17 research and technology grants totaling $600,000 to improve our ability to respond to invasive species, and

-                           created an integrated invasive species outreach program to link together groups representing public health, agriculture, environment and tourism.

Our goal is to provide the commitment and matching funds to encourage increased participation by our partners.

 

National Parks

 

The National Parks Service has contributed greatly to conservation in Hawai’i and has made great strides in the two aspects of invasive species management that provide the most significant long term biological impact, prevention and early detection and rapid response. The National Resources Protection Cooperative Agreement Act S. 1288 will build on the contributions that the National Parks have made and allow cooperation and partnerships that will continue to benefit both the resources of the National Park as well as the State of Hawaii.

 

Those of us that live and work in Hawai’i and appreciate the results of the conservation of native ecosystems owe so much to our local National Parks. So much of what is locally assumed to be Conservation Management 101 was developed locally by National Parks resource managers. While the introduction of invasive weeds that have altered and replaced native forests spread out of control, the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park Resource Manager Tim Tunison recognized that by setting aside Special Ecological Areas and managing them intensively, tracks of valuable native ecosystems could be preserved. By focusing on the outlying populations of invasive plants instead of the heavily infested cores of the populations the rate of spread could be slowed, stopped and potentially a strategy for the island wide eradication of invasive species was developed and is applied across the state by the Invasive Species Committees.

 

Even the threat posed by direct flights from the mainland to the island of Maui was not given adequate consideration until Haleakala National Park Superintendent Don Reeser stood up to the expansion at Kahului Airport that without mitigation would have increased the rate of introduction of invasive species. His support prompted years of study and effort that among other successes have produced a Pest Risk Assessment that details the highest risk pathways for the introduction of invasive species as well and the development of a new quarantine facility at the airport that will allow the inspection of incoming goods and thereby reduce the risk to Maui. Even the mechanism that allows agencies to pool resources to hire the Invasive Species Committee and Watershed Partnership field crews that carry out invasive species management is based on the original Parks Cooperative Studies Unit that evolved to include all of Hawai’i.

 

The Natural Resource Protection Cooperative Agreement Act S.1288 is a positive extension of the partnerships that Hawai’i’s National Parks have fostered. By providing protected areas that act as laboratories for the most intensive cutting edge management the NPS fosters the development of a valuable core of dedicated individuals. The insights from the management of the parks themselves can lead to conservation measures that improve the conservations of lands across boundaries to include entire landscapes. From working together to stop the spread of the invasive tree Miconia into native rainforests to partnerships with neighboring landowners to create tracts of cooperatively protected forests the National Parks in Hawai’i are one of our most valuable partners.

 

Protecting Hawai’I from Invasive Species

 

Hawai’i is the most isolated island group in the world but the regulations that we rely on to maintain our unique environment are written with a continent in mind. Hawaii needs special consideration and special protective measures.  Many of the species that have spread across the mainland United States have not arrived here and will not get here without the aid of a direct flight or shipment. Even native species from the mainland US and those species no longer considered a national interdiction priority are of utmost importance for Hawai’i to be able to intercept on arrival. Recent studies funded by the Hawai’i Invasive Species Council and carried out by the Hawai’i Department of Agriculture expanded on the initial risk assessments carried out at the Kahului Airport on Maui and have shown that even pre-inspected goods contain insects and pathogens not known to occur in Hawai’i.

 

While the inspections of goods leaving Hawai’i are for the protection of California, Hawai’i  has no comparable federal inspection of incoming domestic goods and is left vulnerable to the import of materials both domestic and foreign containing invasive species that threaten our health, economy and environment. We rely completely on our environment and its protection must become our foremost concern. H.R. 3468 will reduce the risk to Hawai’i from uninspected goods. We support the intent of H.R. 3468 and ask that you consider introducing a companion measure in the Senate.

 

Brown Treesnake Coordination and Cooperation

 

The state of Hawai’i is extremely fortunate in having so many treasured endemic flora and fauna remaining in the islands. Invasive species threaten that heritage. The impact that even one invasive species can have on Pacific Island flora and fauna has been made clear by the cases of Tahiti where Miconia, the invasive tree from Central and South America has replaced over 2/3 of the forests, and on Guam where the Brown Treesnake introduced by United States military traffic has caused the extinction of 9 of the 13 remaining native bird species. Miconia has already arrived and is a  high priority for control on all Hawaiian island where it occurs. It is equally a high priority to prevent the introduction and establishment of the Brown Treesnake.

 

In 2003, legislation was introduced to the Hawai’i State Legislature that would have required all cargo arriving from Guam must be inspected by USDA Wildlife Services. One of the barriers to passing this legislation at the time was uncertainty as to whether or not a certification method could be developed for cargo originating on Guam. Through a cooperative agreement funded by the Hawaii Invasive Species Council a Wildlife Services a pilot program was developed to test both the cost of the inspection process and the seal or verification of the cargo. Based on preliminary results, the pilot program did work and it now seems feasible to develop a system to increase the standards applied to civilian cargo departing from Guam. In our view efforts to prevent the establishment of Brown Treesnakes in Hawai’i will be less effective unless all high risk cargo departing from Guam is subjected to the same level of inspection effort. All entities moving materials from Guam to Hawai’i must be willing to participate in an interdiction effort that prevents the spread of the Brown Treesnake.

 

In the Pacific we are fortunate to have a tradition of working together. The Brown Tree Snake Control and Eradication Act of 2004 was a welcome recognition of the personal commitment of many dedicated individuals and cooperation between agencies. The greatest success of all from Hawai’i’s perspective has been that no Brown Treesnakes have been captured on Hawaiian soil since the initiation of the Wildlife Services inspections of military and civilian aircraft and cargo on Guam. We have concerns that Wildlife Services is not receiving adequate funding to continue these services and that increased military activity in and through Guam will increase the risk of a future Brown Treesnake introduction. We hope that the various military services will increase their support and participation in the Brown Treesnake interdiction efforts as their operations expand.

 

The statement of the sense of Congress in the Brown Tree Snake Control and Eradication Act of 2004 is that there should be better coordination on control, interdiction, research, and eradication of Brown Treesnakes. We believe it is vital that the preventative steps needed to protect the Pacific islands from Brown Treesnakes become part of the operation directive given to all federal agencies, including the Department of Defense, that carry out operations that may spread invasive species that would cause long-lasting harm. The original congressional statement of concern over Brown Treesnakes provides this directive. We hope it will be included in future appropriations that support operations on Guam:

 

“No Federal agency may authorize, fund, or carry out any action that would likely cause or promote the introduction or spread of the brown tree snake in the United States or the Freely Associated States. All Federal agencies must consider brown tree snake interdiction issues when planning any activity that may cause the accidental introduction of any brown tree snake to uninfested areas in the United States and the Freely Associated States.

 

Each Federal agency shall provide cooperative support, such as office space, laboratory space, laboratory animal holding facilities, kennel facilities, short- and long-term housing for staff, access to infested snake lands, commissary privileges, power, water, and communication lines to Federal agencies and staff of Federal agencies conducting brown tree snake control, interdiction, research, and eradication.

 

Each Federal agency that manages any lands where the brown tree snake occurs shall fund the control and eradication of this species.”

 

Conclusion

 

Thank you for the chance to offer a management agency’s perspective on invasive species issues in Hawai’i. We believe that continued support for interagency partnerships that ensure there are no gaps between invasive species prevention, early detection and rapid response efforts, as well as supporting research and outreach programs, is key to our continued success.